Sheriff/ACLU Fight Entering Final Legal Round

District Court Judge to Rule Again On Illegal Immigrant Detainment

The Teller County Sheriff’s ongoing legal battle against the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) hit the main stage last week during a three-day trial in Cripple Creek, capped by Sheriff Jason Mikesell pleading his case.

The lawsuit is centered on the fact that the sheriff entered the 287g agreement with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Agency in 2019, action that civil liberty officials contend violated a state law.

The decision is back in the hands of District Court Judge Scott Sells after an appeals court overruled his ruling to throw out the lawsuit. Lawyers from the ACLU and Teller County pleaded both of their cases during the trial that went from Tuesday to Thursday last week.

At the end of the day on Thursday, the judged announced that he would not have a decision right away. He said that he will formulate a written decision, which  should be completed by the end of February.

During the trial, the ACLU argued that the sheriff’s agreement with ICE is against a law passed by the state in 2019 called “Protect Colorado Residents from Federal Government Overreach.” The law prevents law enforcement agencies from holding inmates, flagged by ICE after they post bond and outlaws partnerships like the 287g.

The ACLU also argued that keeping people incarcerated after they post bond is against the state’s constitution. They claimed that the sheriff office’s agreement with ICE violates the state law and that the office has held three different immigrants on ICE holds.

During the trial, the lawyer representing the county said that the agreement with ICE came about after the county was forced to deal with a slew of immigrants running illegal marijuana grow operations within Teller. They argued that the state law passed in 2019 does not specifically bar the sheriff’s office from their ICE partnership.

According to an article published by the Colorado Sun, the sheriff said his agreement with ICE is similar to agreements they have in place with other federal agencies like the FBI, DEA, and National Forest Service. He said that the agreement helps give his deputies extra tools to promote public safety.

ICE Training Under Scrutiny

Through the agreement, the county has trained four deputies on immigration arrests and procedures. The sheriff said in court that ICE paid for the training of the deputies.

The ACLU first filed a lawsuit on behalf of six county residents against the sheriff in 2018 after a person was held in jail on an ICE hold after the suspect was arrested in Cripple Creek for a minor gaming violation. That same year, a judge ruled in the sheriff’s favor and threw out the lawsuit.

In 2019, the sheriff then formed his 287g partnership with ICE to aid the office in conducting ICE holds and working with the agency. The state law that many called the “Anti-Teller Bill” was written and passed in response to Teller County’s agreement with ICE, since it is the only county in the state that has such an agreement.

After the bill was passed into law, the ACLU filed the current lawsuit in 2019 that claimed the sheriff was unlawfully using taxpayer dollars for the partnership and that holding people after they bonded out violated the Constitution.

In 2020, the district court threw out the lawsuit again saying that the taxpayers didn’t have legal ground to sue. The judge ruled that since the jail operates and pays for itself, taxpayers couldn’t say their money was going towards enforcing immigration laws or the ICE partnership.

After the district court’s ruling, the ACLU appealed, but the process was slowed down in courts due to the pandemic. Then last year, the decision was reversed by the Colorado Court of Appeals, and it was sent back to district court to be decided.

As a result, the judge’s ruling this time could still be appealed in the future. The judge said he will release his decision in the next month.